I, like many suckers before me and since, once signed in to a three year gym membership thinking I was getting ‘the best deal’. In my defense, I had been unwell for an extended period of time and was desperately clutching at straws but, all the same, I was of sound mind so the blame is mine and mine alone – mea maxima culpa. Thus began my frightening adventure with organised exercise.
My gym was located in the heart of the city, up some steep and long steps which acted as the first test of dedication and resilience. If you could make it to the top and still have the energy to communicate with the front of house staff then you had showed yourself worthy of entering the gym-proper and availing yourself of the Machines of Mass Destruction that lay slumbering in the large and sweaty rooms just beyond the reception area.
Much has already been written of the various ‘scams’ that gyms use to squeeze as much blood from the flabby stones of their membership ranks as possible, but I must say, as a general rule, I was easily able to dodge the ferret-like advances of the small and wiry ‘fitness consultants’ and was largely left alone. I have always had a way of seeming unapproachable when needed – it certainly came in handy here.
After orientating myself with the various forms of torture and self-abuse available, I began to settle in to an easy routine and even found, to my surprise, that I enjoyed my visits, as the exercise had a wonderful effect on my general sense of well-being. While I found the other inhabitants largely noxious and vain, by keeping myself separate and protected by my mantle of angry-indifference, I had started to feel that I had (accidentally) made a good decision in joining. It was at this point, once my guard was sufficiently lowered, that the true horror began. I offer two seemingly innocent words in explanation of what transpired and my subsequent terror and ultimate demise – Group Fitness.
I once went to an evangelical church with my father who, at the time, was looking for some kind of spiritual solace (he eventually traded in his atheism and became a Catholic – go figure). The most disturbing thing about this visit was not the message, or the people, or even the religion itself but the unavoidable hysteria of it. When it came time for the congregation to stand and raise hands, as the only person still seated, I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to stand up and participate. This is mainly significant in light of my complete lack of religious feeling for what they believed or preached – it wasn’t my own feeling or belief that moved me but the pressure of the surrounding mass-hysteria.
Group fitness, I discovered so brutally, is a form of mass-hysteria similar to what I experienced at the clap-happy church. I felt such an overwhelming pressure to join in and conform – something which anyone who’s ever known me would find surprising. I would leave the gym disgusted with myself, full of the shame of one who has compromised himself just to fit in and participate.
What started with a leisurely afternoon yoga session became weekly Pilates and yoga classes, which then advanced to include Power training and a morning Spin class and then finally, to the full pornographic gore-fest horror-show that is Power Cardio, or ‘Radical Fitness Power’ to the indoctrinated members (I will remain forever grateful that I never got round to trying Zumba – the satanic exercise of choice for the evil-one himself). It is a great blessing that at this point my self-esteem had become so low and my mental-stability so undermined that I forthwith experienced a minor panic-induced break-down. In the weeks that followed, I rested and convalesced, taking every opportunity to consider my actions and to contemplate my mistakes.
It is plain to me now, with the healing vision of hindsight, that I had fallen prey to my own human desire to belong and fit in. The power of mass-hysteria had been the catalyst but the drive was in-built. I now understand the powerful forces that lay dormant in my human-soul – I thus feel better equipped to confront them in the future.
My gym membership is now long finished, though the remnants of the experience remain. I have since bought a cycle trainer and, supplemented by online yoga videos, I find this a satisfactory means of exercising in the comfort and quiet of home.
The marketing catch-phrase of my old gym was ‘Experience the difference’ – this I did. And for that, I remain forever changed.
dumbbell image source: www.freepik.com
evangelical book image souce: www.patheos.com
group fitness image source: alive-pt.tumblr.com
crowd image source: www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com